The founding of the Virgin Islands Alzheimer’s Association in Tortola, BVI, is about the power of one person to make a difference. It started at a Rotary Club meeting in 2013 when a fellow Rotarian confided in Edna Williams, “I have been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.”

He told her how hard it was to find support and resources. Edna felt compassion for her friend and others in his situation. As a trained social services worker, human resources consultant, and woman of action, she went to work to remedy the situation. The results: a vibrant Association recognized by Alzheimer’s Disease International. The Association and its many volunteers serve as advocates for people who are living with dementia and their friends and families.

We were honored to spend time with Edna and to share our presentation with a group of family and professional care partners, social workers, and community and spiritual leaders.  As we talked about the strength of music to keep us connected, Dawn, the daughter of Edna’s Rotarian colleague, the man who had inspired the founding of the Association, stepped forward to tell us her own story. 

For several years, her father had been listless and withdrawn, seldom showing interest in anything. She mourned his father’s dynamic personality and tried many things to lift his spirits and pique his interest. Then she came upon a favorite song of his from years back, a lively tune with a Latin beat. 

“When I played that song for him,” she told us, “he came to life. His eyes brightened and he began to mouth, then sing the words. He leaned forward in his chair, wanting to get up and move. It was such a meaningful transformation. The music connected with him and that helped him connect with us.”

Her touching story was a reminder that arts and creativity can go beyond the rational mind and the spoken word and awaken our hearts and spirits. 

As we shared ideas for staying connected with each other, regardless of our abilities, our own hearts and spirits were expanded by our time with Edna and her group. It’s wonderful to live in a place of breathtaking beauty. It’s even greater to live in a community where people reach out to help and support their neighbors.  

Deborah Shouse is the author of Connecting in the Land of Dementia: Creative Activities to Explore Together and Love in the Land of Dementia: Finding Hope in the Caregiver’s Journey.

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